John Densmore

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John Densmore
John Densmore1968 publicity photo.jpg
Publicity photo of Densmore, 1966
Background information
Birth name John Paul Densmore
Born (1944-12-01) December 1, 1944 (age 72)
Origin Los Angeles
Genres Psychedelic rock, acid rock, blues rock, hard rock, blues, jazz fusion
Occupation(s) Musician, drummer, filmmaker, author, actor, dancer
Instruments Drums
Years active 1965–present
Labels Elektra
Associated acts The Doors, Rick & the Ravens, The Butts Band, Tribaljazz.

John Paul Densmore (born December 1, 1944) is an American musician, songwriter, author and actor. He is best known as the drummer of the rock band The Doors, and as such is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[1] He was the only drummer in the Doors' history and appeared on every recording made by the band. Densmore is also noted for his veto of attempts by the other two Doors members, in the wake of singer Jim Morrison's 1971 death, to accept offers to license the rights to various Doors songs for commercial purposes, as well as his objections to their ongoing use in the 21st century of the Doors name and logo, and his lengthy and successful court battles to gain compliance.

Densmore has worked additionally in the performing arts as a dancer and actor, and written successfully as both a playwright and the author of two books on the topic of The Doors.

Early life[edit]

Born in Los Angeles on December 1, 1944, Densmore grew up playing piano and later took up drums/percussion for the marching band at his school. He also played timpani in orchestra.[2] Densmore attended Santa Monica City College and California State University, Northridge; at the latter he studied ethnic music under jazz cellist Fred Katz.[3]

John Densmore (right side) in a 1969 publicity photo of the Doors

Densmore's drumming influences included hard jazz figures Elvin Jones (drummer for John Coltrane) and Art Blakey.[4]

The Doors[edit]

In the mid-1960s he joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called The Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter he began rehearsals with keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Manzarek's two brothers and Morrison in the group Rick & the Ravens. On the brothers' departure from the band, Densmore recommended Krieger join them, thus forming The Doors in 1965. The quartet, after two years of work, became star attractions in 1967, and released six studio and several live albums, eventually selling over 100 million units.[5]

According to Densmore's autobiography, he had quit the band on one occasion in reaction to lead singer Jim Morrison's increasingly self-destructive behavior, although Densmore returned the next day. Densmore repeatedly suggested that the band stop touring, but Krieger and Manzarek were resistant to this notion. After the Doors' disastrous performance with a gibberish-spouting Morrison in New Orleans on December 12, 1970, the band agreed to stop performing live, and the New Orleans concert would be the band's last public appearance as a quartet.

Morrison’s death in 1971 marked the end of an era, though the surviving trio recorded two more albums of songs and an instrumental backdrop for the late singer’s recorded poetry. Densmore remained a member until the band's dissolution in 1973.

Later career[edit]

Densmore formed a band with fellow ex-Doors Robby Krieger in 1973 called Butts Band. The band released two albums with two different lineups but disbanded in 1975. Densmore left rock and roll in the 1980s, moving to the world of dance as he performed with Bess Snyder and Co., touring the United States for two years.

John Densmore (left) in 1971 with Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of the Doors

In 1984, at La Mama Theatre in New York, he made his stage acting debut in Skins, a one-act play he had written. In 1985, he won the LA Weekly Theater Award for music with Methusalem, directed by Tim Robbins. The play Rounds, which he co-produced, won the NAACP award for theatre in 1987. In 1988, he played a feature role in Band Dreams and Bebop at the Gene Dynarski Theatre. He developed and performed a one-man piece from the Donald Barthelme short story, The King of Jazz, at the Wallenboyd Theatre in 1989. With Adam Ant, he co-produced Be Bop A Lula at Theatre Theatre in 1992. He has acted in numerous TV shows, most memorably as himself in the show Square Pegs, working as a drummer for Johnny Slash's band Open 24 Hours, and in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in 1992, in Series 2, Episode 23, where he plays Ben, Dylan's sponsor.

His film credits include Get Crazy with Malcolm McDowell, Dudes directed by Penelope Spheeris, and The Doors directed by Oliver Stone. In the latter film he was portrayed by actor Kevin Dillon.

Densmore wrote his best-selling autobiography, Riders on the Storm (1990),[6] about his life and the time he spent with Morrison and the Doors. In the first chapter Densmore describes the solemn day on which he and the band finally visited Morrison's grave[7] around three years after Morrison's death.

As a member of the Doors, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He worked as a technical adviser on the 1991 film The Doors,[8] and has stated he was very impressed with Val Kilmer's performance as Morrison.

Densmore appears alongside Krieger and Manzarek in 2012's RE:GENERATION, a documentary directed by Amir Bar-Lev. It features Densmore collaborating on a new song with Skrillex.

Stand against commercialization[edit]

Densmore, Manzarek and Krieger, after Jim Morrison's death, allowed "Riders on the Storm" to be used to sell Pirelli Tyres, but in the United Kingdom only. Densmore later stated that he "heard Jim's voice" in his ears and ended up donating his share of the money earned to charity. In 2003, Densmore vetoed an offer by Cadillac of $15 million for "Break on Through (To the Other Side)" citing Morrison's historic and vehement opposition to licensing the Doors' music, notably their best-selling single "Light My Fire" for a Buick television commercial,[9] as well as Densmore's own development of strong personal views on the subject.

In a subsequent court trial, in which Densmore was joined by the Morrison estate, opposing lawyers attempted to portray Densmore as an eco-terrorist. Notable musicians who testified in support of Densmore included Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Eddie Vedder and Tom Waits.[10]

In 2013 Densmore released The Doors Unhinged, a book covering his lengthy but victorious legal battle with Krieger and Manzarek over their use of the Doors' name and logo in their touring, and Densmore's veto of the Cadillac commercial offer.[10]

Political views[edit]

In 2015, Densmore backed the U.S. presidential run of Bernie Sanders.[11]


  1. ^ Huey, Steve. "Biography: John Densmore". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved April 14, 2010. 
  2. ^ "John Densmore: When You're Strange - Modern Drummer Magazine". 
  3. ^ Densmore, John (1990). Riders on the storm: my life with Jim Morrison and the Doors (1st ed.). New York City: Delacorte Press. p. 34. ISBN 0-385-30033-6; ISBN 978-03-8530-033-9. 
  4. ^ "John Densmore talks drumming, classic tracks and his book The Doors Unhinged". 
  5. ^ "Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74". 
  6. ^ Densmore, John (1990). Riders on the storm: my life with Jim Morrison and the Doors. 
  7. ^ Densmore, John (1990). Riders on the storm: my life with Jim Morrison and the Doors. p. 1. It smelled like rain. I had hoped it would storm. Then we wouldn't have had to see his grave. My heartbeat was increasing. I looked over at Robby, Danny, and Herve in the car as we approached the cemetery. 
  8. ^ John Densmore at the Internet Movie Database.
  9. ^ Harmon, Rod. "From the Editor: The Doors, the Buick, and the book". Portland Press Herald. Portland Press Herald. Retrieved April 24, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "The Doors' John Densmore Talks About the Band's Ugly, Six-Year Feud". 
  11. ^, The Washington Times. "Inside the Beltway: John Densmore, Doors drummer, to help Bernie Sanders raise campaign funds". 

External links[edit]